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The UN’s World Food Programme has won the Nobel Peace Prize, in a strong endorsement of multilateralism after US president Donald Trump questioned the merits of several international organisations.

“Multilateralism seems to have a lack of respect these days,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian committee, who said the discrediting of international institutions was “part of populism, it has a nationalistic flavour”.

The UN’s largest specialist agency was praised for its efforts in combating hunger, and stopping its use in war and conflict. Ms Reiss-Andersen said it was “a modern version of the peace congresses” that the prize was intended to promote.

She added that hunger and armed conflict were a “vicious circle”, with one often fuelling the other.

The choice of the WFP is the latest in a series of low-key peace awards after the prize was controversially given to the newly elected Barack Obama in 2009 and to the EU in 2012.

Favourites for the prize had included the World Health Organization, shunned by Mr Trump this year in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, as well as journalist organisations and figures fighting climate change, such as Greta Thunberg.

Ms Reiss-Andersen warned that countries were reducing their financial support for UN agencies and that she hoped the prize would encourage governments to reverse that.

“The need for international solidarity and multilateral co-operation is more conspicuous than ever,” she stressed.

The Norwegian committee noted the number of victims of acute hunger — already at a very high level in 2019 of 135m people worldwide — had increased significantly because of the pandemic.

“The world is in danger of experiencing a hunger crisis of inconceivable proportions if the World Food Programme and other food assistance organisations do not receive the financial support they have requested,” it added.

The WFP said on Friday that it was “deeply humbled” to receive the prize and claimed it was recognition for its staff putting “their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance to more than 100m hungry children, women and men across the world”.

Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s centre-left prime minister, said on Twitter: “Multilateralism [is] now more important than ever before. The organisation is proving that multilateral co-operation is needed to counter global crises and to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Gayle Smith, president of the ONE Campaign against poverty, said the WFP “has been a leader in the fight against world hunger for decades”.

“In a moment when millions are facing rising food insecurity, let’s hope that this well-deserved Nobel lights a fire under governments that need to step up and finance WFP’s urgent mission to stave off a hunger crisis that we can prevent,” she said.

The WFP was heavily criticised last year for its workplace culture. An external review by consultants Willis Towers Watson found “startling results” with a significant number of employees alleging that they had experienced or witnessed abusive behaviour at the WFP.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Wheatley in London

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